Former Homeless People Reveal The Best Ways To Help People On The Street
There are far too many homeless people in America. How the "richest" country in the world could allow even ONE of it's citizens to be sleeping on the street is disheartening. And nowadays more and more children and families are the added numbers on that list of outdoor occupants. Homelessness is something that affects all of us. Anybody can be homeless if life throws you enough curveballs. It's a sad issue that we all can take part is helping fix. Everyone has an opinion on how but it's rare that we actually consult the suffering to find out the best course of action.
Redditor [u/haseo8998] asked for advice... [Serious] ex/homeless people, in your opinion what's the best way to really help the homeless? What facilities should each city have for them? Open up your hearts people. There are many in need.
GIVE HELP NOT CHARITY.
The majority of homeless are people you don't see on the street. Families living in cars, people trying to get housing, rents increasing that a family simply cant sustain... I admire San Diego having parking lots dedicated to people/families who live in cars. I also think, as far fetched as it may sound to some, if we give apts to some homeless, with deadlines and goals as we do in the welfare system-- we can help people who are simply in a tough spot. Not everyone is on drugs. Many won't take a hand out, this wasn't supposed to "happen to them." A home provides a sense of stability, their own bathroom. Cooking food. A feeling of safety.
HELP WITH GETTING THERE...
As a former homeless teen, I needed Transportation (like a bus pass or a bike) to make it to school and my job. I couch surfed a lot as a teen and I didn't have a problem with food offers (I know several people who won't eat in front of others unless they are eating too) but I never took money.
A SOFT COUCH...
My couch surfing started with some serious mental illness and dysfunction within my immediate family/parents. I saved up money and put a deposit on a tiny apartment moving in with a roommate. I ended up missing too much school and dropping out but I got my GED the summer after I should have graduated. Married at 18 (to a lifeguard who used to yell at me for using the showers at the public pool) and parents soon after. We both worked our butts off and supported each other (taking turns) with college. I now have my masters degree (in Social Work) and 2 of my 3 kids have graduated HS already. (3rd is in middle school now). I honestly feel I was determined to do better on my own but I know it was the support from my marriage that kept me strong.
WORKING HARD FOR THE $$$
If you know anyone hiring for a job, send them into the homeless shelter and ask for help. Especially if it's an under the table job, 11 times out 10 you'll find help.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE LOOK...
A system to rent/lease clothes for interviews and work. I know multiple people who weren't able to accept a job or were fired after a few days because they wouldn't be able to afford the uniform until after the first paycheck. 2) Information on how to obtain safe, affordable (cheap) transportation. A lot of folks who are saving to afford a car have been fired due to unreliable transportation.
HELP WITH NO STRINGS... JUST HELP...
Don't make services contingent on each other. Some examples. I used to work fairly traditional hours (about 8-6) and I was in a shelter that required me to use case management services to participate. Ok, I can b-s with some college degree for an hour but they wanted me to take time off work in my minimum wage job to go to this appointment during the day. Nope. Not worth my job. Soon as I could, I filled up my tank and moved back into my car. Another example. If someone just wants a shower, don't make them have to move into your shelter overnight. There might be a good reason I don't want to stay there, just let me wash my stinky self and go about my day. Another thing. If I'm sleeping in my car, leave me alone. It's nice to be able to sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time before having to move, that life gets exhausting real quick. Don't help me unless I ask for help, police don't need to interfere either unless I am the victim of a crime or breaking a law. Basically be flexible, know that I am a human being who has my own life figured out, know that I know things you don't about my own life, and let me set the terms of interacting with the world to the same extent as anyone else.
EVERYONE NEEDS PROOF OF LIFE...
Make it easier to get a drivers license. I moved from WA to SoCal and in the process got my wallet stolen with my ID in it. Without an ID you cant get a new debit/credit which equals no cash. Without cards you cant rent, without proof of residency you can't get an ID. Its literally a circle you cant get out of.
A STEADY ADDRESS...
One of the main reasons the homeless slide further into unemployment is because it's damn near impossible to get a job without a permanent address to give them. I think local businesses are the answer. When you get past the image and stigma, lots of homeless folks just want a job. If the city of state we're able to help businesses with something like tax breaks or whatever to provide min wage work and housing if possible. A restaurant I worked at had a long term dish guy from Mexico living in one of the small studios above the restaurant plus getting a slightly below minimum wage hourly. So many downtown districts have these little spaces. Instead of charging trust fund art kids 2,000/month to live in the attics that those places really are, maybe rent them to people trying to get back on their feet.
A HEALTHY MIND IS A GREAT FIRST STEP...
I was homeless for about 3 months while I was in college. I slept in the school library during weeknights, and on the steps of a church on weekends. I showered and kept most of my stuff in the school gym. Personally I started drinking almost every night because it's so hard to sleep on the concrete, or under the bright lights in the library without something flowing through your system. A lot of homeless people use drugs not just to cope, but to keep themselves on a regular sleep schedule. It's really hard to get a good night's sleep when you don't have any sort of mattress to sleep on, or have lights shining in your eyes at all hours of the night.
There was a homeless shelter nearby but it's only open at night, and it's first come, first served, so if you have classes or other stuff to do there usually isn't any space left. Plus you have to sit on the sidewalk with a bunch of other hobos waiting for it to open. Expanding the size of homeless shelters could help, but it also has a disparate impact on the nearby neighborhoods as well. No one wants a bunch of addicts lying around doing drugs on their front lawn or in front of their business.
Around half the homeless people I met were homeless by choice and wouldn't take a free home if it was offered. A lot of them traveled around the country, often by hopping freight trains. These people wouldn't take services even if offered. Most of the ones I got along with refused to panhandle because they felt it demeaning. A lot of them actually had jobs, they just chose to be homeless for personal or financial services. I think one of the issues with the public's perception of homelessness is that people assume everyone wants a home, everyone wants services, everyone wants to stop being homeless. A majority of the homeless people I met were perfectly happy living life as a hobo.
However, about a quarter of them had serious, obvious mental health issues like schizophrenia. I'd love to see an increase in services to help these people. I think it would be cool if we could create a semi-assisted living community for these people, allowing them some degree of independence as appropriate, but with supervision from health care professionals, sort of like a nursing home for hobos.
A QUICK RINSE...
Washrooms. I m not joking here. A bathhouse or simple sanitary measures. Most homeless people look ugly and disheveled because they don't have option to tidy up. A simple bath makes them socially more acceptable and will boost their sense of self worth.
ALL SHOULD BE AVAILABLE...
They need to offer the option of buying warm food with food stamps first of all. The worst thing was when I was homeless and couldn't even keep any of our food because we didn't have any way to store it or cook it. I could go to a food bank sure, but they gave me 10 lbs of frozen meat and some canned veggies. You have no way of preparing this stuff when you're homeless in the middle of a small town. Not only that, but when you're homeless they actually have the gall to lower SSI and foodstamps because you're no longer paying bills or utilities. Public restrooms and showers would also be wonderful instead of having to wander around at 8am trying to find an open gas station or corner store with a bathroom.
PAGING A DOCTOR....
HEALTHCARE. If a homeless person breaks their ankle and doesn't have the money or insurance to cover it they're screwed. And then if its not treated it doesn't heal right then they're even MORE screwed. Mobility is key to being homeless.
MORE OPEN SPACES...
I used to hop freight trains so this will be a bit different.
I feel like I would have greatly benefitted from libraries being open later, because they were one of my number one spots to go sit, read, and use wifi.
Public parks could use more benches or places to just sit and maybe hang out with your road dawgs for a bit
Also, trash bins outside! I don't litter, but carrying my trash around in my pack and my pockets sucked and sometimes trash bins are few and far between
A FULL PLAN...
I've been homeless more than once. Sleeping in every article of clothing I own because it's winter in upstate NY, USA kinda homeless.
The best way to really help the homeless? In patient mental health treatment, substance abuse and addiction counseling, and basic needs providence - on a time limit.
Transition assistance from indigent to social cog.
Self esteem and employability coaching.
A one year program that reintegrates people into a stable lifestyle is a great start. It's got to be a one-off though. No repeats. It's gotta be assistance, not a crutch.
If I'd have had any of this, I wouldn't have had to fight it out by myself. I wouldn't have relapsed so many times. I wouldn't be afraid or ashamed of asking for help or handouts.
It's tough, in capitalist nations. It's even tougher in countries with no actual backing to their currency. It's the worst when everyone hates the poor.
Volunteer/donate at shelters (make sure they're running well before either one.)
Cities should all have areas where the homeless can at the very least get cleaned up. A way to get a haircut, hygiene supplies (Tampons, pads, soap, shampoo.) a shower, bathroom etc. Understandably a city can't always supply a place to sleep, (yes I know about potential alternatives, but a city can't always get the approval whether its from local politicians or the voters in the area.) But they should do their best to atleast try to help, whether it's simple shelters in parks a person can bunker down in during a storm, a big check in shelter, or a network of volunteer centers.
They should also regularly check in on how things are run, much more than just budgeting and whether they meet grant requirements, but whether or not they're making sure donations go where they should be going, whether or not they're operating under a reasonable overhead, etc.
BELIEVE IN HUMANITY...
I don't know. I learned nothing from my experience except how seemingly terrible and complex the problem is. A lot of the people I encountered are meaningfully mentally ill or physically disabled enough that I don't think there's any path forward for them to living a fully independent life in the conventional sense, they probably need some sort of assisted living program. Other people are so briefly homeless and otherwise capable, that even calling them homeless is more a barrier for them than any sort of meaningful category.
Most people don't want to give to individuals, because some of those individuals are scammers or else are addicts, so they either do nothing or else give to organizations that provide services that unfortunately are often worse than nothing and incur overheard costs that lessens the impact of the money given from the moment it's donated. I would rather sleep outside then in the average homeless shelter, so giving to them isn't necessarily the answer either.
Though I suppose from all this complexity emerges a certain simplicity, in that, if the government took ownership of these problems and actually allocated any money to them at all, it would probably be much easier to create shelters that actually serve a function. Right now you have a lot of private organizations, competing for funding, which usually involves that they demonstrate they serve a unique function and have a novel approach to the problem in their area. Rather than encourage innovation, this essentially nullifies efforts for groups to work together or consolidate services into a comprehensive continuum of care in the way that a state run program might be able to. Granted many states, including my own, are terribly broke at the moment, which sounds like a good reason not to fund such programs, until you figure in the fact that the absence of such programs is probably costing them a lot of money in a round about way, not to mention the fact that said states have had many opportunities to make millions off of paving the way for things like recreational marijuana and gambling and such, but they drag their feet pointlessly.
Ironically the non-profit sector, at the level of the research and the money, is often very self-serving because nothing can meaningfully be expected to be accomplished with no money except jettisoning a phd students career into a better field, that they don't stay means that the people who do stay, are often not policy researchers, but career bureaucrats who don't value novel solutions and therefore perpetuate the cycle of turning away innovation.
It's the intersection of a lot of human failings, the ineptness of government, the cynicism of the individual, even the limitations of medicine itself. At the end of the day, a cursory look at the globe shows us that in countries where homelessness is not a problem, it's clearly a result of them adopting the idea and the priority that no one should be homeless regardless of their situation or character, which is obviously not something that is embraced in the U.S.A.
Personally, my optimism on the issue does not lie with the conventional social service non-profit sector, but with the innovation of designers and engineers. I think the very concept of what it means to be housed is in flux, and that while a lot of the problems they're facing in redefining the nature of housing, structure and shelter are very large, I'll always bet on the mountain that wants to be moved over the pebble that sure as hell doesn't.
SHELTERS SHOULD BE COMFORTABLE.
I was lucky to be homeless in a city with the best shelter I ever heard of. It's a huge facility that offers free, unlimited access to showers, toilets and laundry machines. There is an administrative area where anyone can meet one of the social workers there, or register to make the shelter their official address, so they can receive mail. The canteen serves pretty high quality food for free. There is a common area with beds, but also private boxes with a bed and a small kitchen you can rent like an appartement for 90€/month. The team is overall pretty nice. The best part is that you don't need to painstalkingly prove you're really homeless, provide a lot of documents like in other shelters ; in this one, they treat you with respect and offer you food, shelter and support before talking about papers.
I feel like if every city had such a shelter, it'd be pretty good.
BEING PAID WHAT WE'RE ALL WORTH!
It comes down to homeless people wanting to rejoin society or not. Right now, it's easier for some to be homeless than to live on minimum wage.